It can’t keep the lights on, but Eskom is great at generating confusion
While the utility can't even sugar-coat load shedding, we’re stuck with the 'brave' souls trying to fix it
“Rotational load shedding”? Sheesh. Eskom can’t even generate a good euphemism. What’s wrong with “Scheduled Cosiness-sharing” or “Non-optional mood-lighting”? No man. Rotational load shedding is what airliners do when they spiral into the ground.
Fortunately, there’s slightly less vagueness around what’s causing the ANC’s latest attempt to cripple the economy: Eskom and experts agree that the problem isn’t coal. We’ve got heaps of the stuff; so much, in fact, that come Christmas the government could put a lump of it in the stocking of every naughty girl or boy. At least they could burn it to warm up their pudding.
That, however, is where the consensus seems to end.
On Thursday, Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe was very clear, saying: “We are having load shedding because there is not enough generating capacity.” On the same day, energy guru Chris Yelland was equally clear when he tweeted: “There is also no shortage of generation capacity in SA. In fact we have more than enough generation capacity to meet the declining demand for electricity since 2007. Problem is that about a third (33%) of that generation capacity has been unavailable due to outages.”
I suppose Pasiwe would insist that he and Yelland are saying the same thing: Whether there’s no generating capacity because you haven’t created enough or you’ve let a third of it turn into rusty monuments to Jacob Zuma, the lights are still off.
The bottom line, however, is clear: Eskom might not be able to generate electricity or adequate euphemisms, but it remains world class at generating confusion.
I’m no energy expert (I still believe, on some very deep level, that electricity is a very diffuse liquid that powers things a bit like a river powers a water wheel) but I have watched the ANC redefine incompetence over and over again in its endless quest for total administrative entropy. A decade ago it was clear that its deployed apparatchiks couldn’t organise their way out of a paper bag. These days they don’t even have a paper bag, because the tender for the paper went to the Guptas and nobody knows what a bag looks like.
Which is why I tend to believe another of Yelland’s tweets, which seemed to boil it all down rather nicely. “The problem,” he wrote, “is to get the right quantity of coal of the right quality to the right place at the right time and at the right price.”
If that is the solution, then who do we need to hire to do what the ANC and Eskom can’t or won’t?
Who are the South Africans who get things done quickly, efficiently, on time and on budget?
We all know the answers: Grandmothers who head households, farmers, the owners of successful small businesses, and a handful of doctors, teachers and police officers.
The trouble is, they’re not available: Redeploy them to Eskom HQ and the country falls apart within 48 hours.
No, we’re stuck with the people currently trying to fix the power utility. On Thursday, Pravin Gordhan hailed them as “brave”. I suppose he’s right. After the past few days you’d have to have nerves of steel to admit to anyone that you work at Eskom.
But now I must close because my power is about to go off. For two hours. In summer, in one of the sunniest countries in the world. Despite everyone knowing about this crisis for decades.
And to the folks at Eskom: All power to you. Because lord knows I don’t have any.